December 29, 2014

Martí describes an Act of Racial Violence

It still feels distressing to read Marti’s article from 1882; “A Town Sets a Black Manon Fire,” published in Mexico’s “El Partido Liberal.” Reading it today could reveal how much or little has changed, or not, in spite of 125 years of cultural progress and social evolution.
The victim in Martí’s article, identified as Coy, cried for his life; “I offered Mrs. Jewell no offense! You’re going to kill me, but I offered her no offense!” It seems that only Martí was listening.
The men who poured petroleum over his body, and the woman who lit the match, were in no danger of being charged with a crime by the legal system.
Why does José Martí seem so relevant again? Is it the appearance in the news of names like Michael Brown, Eric Greene and Tamir Rice? Or is it the persistent lack of change these names represent?
A different article by Martí depicts an act of mob violence in New Orleans in 1891.  
After chief of police John David Hennessy was shot in front of his home, 11 Italians were arrested and charged with murder, but some were acquitted and others released due to mistrial.
The 11 Italians on the receiving end of the mob violence were broken out of jail and murdered.  The lawyers who instigated and lead the event were carried on the crowd’s shoulders like sports heroes.
A grand jury refused to issue any indictments (surprised?) claiming that there were “too many participants” to know exactly where the guilt should lie.
“The grey-eyed politicians hated the dark-eyed politicians,” wrote Martí, abstracting the nature of racism and, perhaps showing how violence itself merely needs an excuse… a way to ignite… and sometimes any reason or excuse will do.
The lynching brought the word “Mafia” into popular culture, infusing the anti-Italian sentiments that already existed. It also led to a stir with the Italian government, who recalled staff from the embassy in Washington. The after-effects of the lynching are not covered in Martí’s article.
I’ve still not seen the TV movie on the subject (“Vendetta” with Christopher Walken) though I plan to.
“Everything that divides men from each other, everything that separates or limits them, is a sin against humanity,” wrote Martí in 1893. “Racist,” he wrote in My Race, “is a confusing word, and it must be clarified.”


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